PROS / This English learning service offers instruction for several standardized exams and includes group lessons and written exercises.
CONS / This web service doesn't offer resume help or cultural study materials.
VERDICT / We recommend ESO for standardized test takers and students looking for group classes.
ESO, short for English Study Online, is one of the best services available to help you learn English online from your desktop computer. The website offers lessons for beginner, intermediate, advanced and business students. You can study in webinar-style group lessons, or you can hire a private tutor to work with you at your convenience. As you learn, you can use educational tools such as games and a pronunciation lab. You can also watch stories and movies about English speaking and English culture so you will be confident taking your skills into the real world once your studies are complete. ESO is our TopTenREVIEWS Bronze Award winner.
Among the best of ESO's features is the test preparation it offers. You can study for the two big tests, TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Learning materials are also available for six other tests. This is important because in order to work in a foreign country, you often must prove your English proficiency by passing these tests. Many universities and other schools also require formal proficiency certification.
Quality of Instruction
You can use ESO if your native language is Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, German, French or Russian. All the tutors are either British or American and speak English and at least one other language fluently. This points to the high level of quality in the instruction available from ESO.
The classes themselves are the next sign of the high quality of teaching at ESO. You learn by reading and typing, watching videos and chatting via instant message or audio with your peers and instructor. The classes also include reading exercises and fill-in-the-blank activities supplemented by live interaction with teachers.
There are also special portals for grammar and pronunciation. For grammar, each lesson starts with a paragraph explaining some English concept, such as parts of speech. We studied the pronoun section, so we learned when to say "I" versus "me" and "he" or "she" instead of people's names. This exercise is useful, but it may be too academic and technical for someone with limited English proficiency. Often, speaking conversationally is more important than knowing the intricacies of grammar.
Audio lessons with ESO have a similar problem. The language on the recordings is spoken clearly and slowly, but it is far more academic in nature than similar lessons offered by competing online English learning services. The pronunciation portal within English Study Online is best suited for beginning English speakers. When you click on words such as cat, like or pen, you see video clips that are a close-up shots of a native English speaker's mouth saying those words. We encourage students to practice aloud along with the clips. You can also click on symbols to hear different words in the pronunciation lab with ESO. Our lesson focused on vowel sounds, so in addition to all the short and long vowel sounds, we learned about mixed vowel sounds in words such as rain, pound and oil. Similar exercises are available for consonants.
Regardless of your learning style, you can improve your English proficiency with ESO. If you aren't getting enough instruction from the group lessons, you can pay extra for private lessons. These can take place online or in person, if you live near London, England, that is.
Variety of Offerings
ESO has many tools to help you learn English. Some of these, like stories and movies, are included in the lessons. Writing instruction is among them. Others, such as English word games, are available outside the group lesson format. Podcasts and a newsletter are also available as supplementary learning content.
ESO does not offer flashcards or worksheets optimized for printing, but you can print documents and other items that your teacher shares in the webinar-style group lessons. ESO also lacks specific lessons about English culture, a translation feature and a dictionary. Its top competitors offer these features. However, it's important to realize that you can learn a lot about English simply by browsing the internet and using free tools like Google Translate. It is unfortunate that ESO doesn't package together all the learning tools we looked for in our review, but you can still complete the available courses and gain a wealth of knowledge about communicating in English without them.
One of the best ways to learn English, or any language, is conversation practice with other English speakers. ESO lets you connect with other students as part of group lessons and helps you find pen pals. It also offers Skype functionality and provides links to its pages on established social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. However, you can't create your own profile or find friends on the ESO site itself. This limits your practice time significantly in comparison with ESO's top competitors.
Ease of Use
Progressing through the lessons in ESO is very simple. For the group lesson units, simply follow along in the webinar-style window. Finding extra course materials is also easy. The only problem students will encounter in navigating the ESO site is that the content available with a regular monthly membership is mixed in with content for which you must pay extra. This can be very frustrating and confusing for someone with limited English skills.
ESO is a good site for improving your English speaking abilities. It offers some of the best standardized test preparation available and has a strong, progressive curriculum. We highly recommend ESO to people with some English skills who are looking to work or study in English-speaking countries. However, there are better English learning web services available for people who are primarily interested in mastering conversational English.